Finn is truly the perfect example of a professional sportsperson who understands the value of having an alternative career plan. He says, “When you're at the top of your game it's all good. But you’re going to have to be able to decide what you want to do in life if you’re ever hit with the harsh reality of not quite making it in your sport professionally.”
Growing up on the North Shore in Auckland and attending Westlake Boys’ High School Finn says he enjoyed schooling and was heavily into subjects about the arts and creativity rather than the Maths and English. He says he’s more into the ‘hands-on’ doing and it was at High School that Finn got started in rowing. “I struggled growing up with wondering what I wanted to do as a career, or dream job. I felt like I lacked any clear direction at High School and shortly afterwards,” says Finn.
“After a brief stint at Uni after the 7th form, I quickly realised that academic life wasn’t my cup of tea. Rowing was my passion. I started rowing in the 3rd form and first got involved because my elder brother rowed, so it seemed like a good idea. We had a great group of guys rowing at Westlake, and we got a good share of national and North Island titles.
“Highlights of my rowing career were winning two back-to-back under 23 World Titles in the Men’s 8+. The Teamwork, hard work, always trying to improve, pushing to progress, and travelling the world were all things I looked forward to every day. Then in 2017 I injured my achilles and was unable to row and had to take a step back. It never fully recovered or came right and I still have issues with it today, so that was my professional rowing career gone, done and dusted.
“I had to come up with Plan B. It wasn’t an easy decision to stop chasing the rowing and Olympic Dream. I thought it was a good idea to start a career in building and see if in a few years the fire is still there, and the body is willing to play ball, then I could reconsider.
“I was lucky enough to start my apprenticeship about six months ago with Jay Cowley Builder. Jay is a local builder in Cambridge and is heavily involved in the community. There are no flies on him, and he works hard and has great attention to detail. He takes great pride in his work which I appreciate and am learning about. He has a good team with him including two other qualified builders and three other apprentices.
“I would say that my rowing career prepared me with the right attitude and work ethic, you know, showing up to work each day on time and doing your best to improve your skills. It’s carried through from my years of rowing.
“Although I’m gutted about my injury and not being able to carry on with the rowing, I’ve got new goals now, to get through my apprenticeship and learn as much as I can to become a skilled builder. With rowing, it was hard to make a long-term plan, so it’s a bit of a milestone for me, just making a choice to stick with carpentry.
We asked Finn what he liked best about being a carpentry apprentice, and he said, “Just being able to watch the progress and know you played a part in that. Being able to stand back at the end of the day and see what you’ve achieved and created – it’s that real feeling of accomplishment.
Finn is optimistic about the future of the industry. “The industry is only going to get way busier, which is good if the jobs are being done correctly with skilled, qualified professionals.
“I think learning on the job is great and helps all the bookwork stick in your head and make sense. Textbook learning doesn’t work for everyone and isn’t always the right way. Learning on the job allows you to gain experience and learn solutions for the problems that builders generally run into on a day-to-day basis. Building is a skill and trade that will take me places, and despite automation and technology advancements, we’ll always need builders,” says Finn.
“My advice to budding sportspeople is to always have a Plan B in case you get injured and can’t progress, and what better Plan B that a practical, hands-on physical career like those in building & construction? You can only have a sporting career while you’re young so give it your best crack, but the balance is very important within high-performance sport. So it is important to keep your other interests and hobbies.
“To anyone leaving school this year my advice is don’t rush into Uni, it’s not for everyone. Find out what you enjoy, what your passion is and match that with a career that’s going to make you happy and proud of what you do every day.”
Unga Funoa’s interest in carpentry began as a young boy in Tonga.
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